The Gophers returned to Big Ten play this weekend with a much-needed series victory against Michigan.
Minnesota dropped two games to Michigan State last Sunday by a combined score of 20-0.
That offensive slump continued into the team’s midweek game, but the Gophers were able to move past that this weekend.
They beat the Wolverines on Friday and Sunday, while putting together better at-bats across the board.
The Gophers’ bats broke out Friday in a 9-6 extra-innings win. It was a cold and rainy day in Ann Arbor, Mich., and shortstop Michael Handel said he thought his team showed a lot of fight coming back for the victory.
Michigan battled back from a 5-0 deficit and tied the game with a three-run eighth inning.
But Minnesota fought back in the 11th.
Gophers second baseman Tony Skjefte, who went 3-for-5 with three runs batted in Friday, drove in the go-ahead run with a bases-loaded walk. Later in the inning, right fielder Bobby Juan singled in two more runs to give Minnesota a three-run lead.
“I thought … the key chance to win the series was winning that [first] game, especially after we gave it up late,” head coach John Anderson said.
Dalton Sawyer threw 58 pitches in 3.2 innings for the win.
He said his arm recovered well after Friday’s game, and he came back Sunday and earned the save in the team’s 3-1 victory.
Sawyer pitched his way out of a bases-loaded jam during the eighth inning in a pivotal moment of Sunday’s game. He said he threw a slider to Michigan’s Jackson Glines, which induced the inning-ending double play.
Sawyer, the team’s most effective reliever, is also the only lefty in the bullpen. He was especially crucial against Michigan’s lineup, which features a lot of lefties.
“It was critical that we found a way to maybe use him twice,” Anderson said. “It worked out for us.”
Minnesota’s Sunday starter, Ben Meyer, provided his team a quality start, giving up one earned run in 7.1 innings. And the Gophers strung together enough quality at-bats to provide him some run support.
“I told them if we can go 12 to 15 quality at-bats, we can have a chance [to win],” Anderson said, “especially the way we’ve shown we’ve been able to pitch and play defense.”
Anderson said by his estimation, the team had 22 quality at-bats Friday, 17 on Saturday and 14 on Sunday.
The Gophers’ offense was shut down Saturday by Michigan starter Evan Hill.
“We weren’t able to do much against him,” Anderson said. “I’m not sure it was us as much as it was him.”
The Gophers lost 8-1, with the only run coming on a home run from Handel after Hill exited the game. Handel said Hill located his fastball particularly well.
“We were swinging early at some of his fastballs that maybe weren’t great hitter’s pitches,” Handel said.
Jordan Jess started for Minnesota and gave up three runs, one earned, in four innings pitched.
Anderson said before the weekend that he wanted his team to simplify at-bats.
“I think when you get to this stage in the season, guys start looking at their batting averages and our team batting average,” he said, “[but] batting average is not a good gauge of how well you’re doing.
“If you have consistent quality at-bats, good things are going to happen.”
For the most part, the Gophers did that this weekend — and they have a series victory to show for it.